John’s intent in writing: When we’re trying to understand the meaning of the scripture, the primary task is to understand what the author was trying to communicate to the audience. After we’ve understood its meaning we then have to figure out what bearing that has for us, in our context. Fortunately, John’s Gospel is pretty immediately evident on both counts.
Put yourself in the church’s shoes at the time.
Late first century AD. It has been a few decades since Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. The generation that walked around with him is aging and starting to die off. You are experiencing persecution and derision from Jews and Pagans alike. Jesus never fulfilled the prevailing expectations they had of the Messiah in terms of political reform.
He has not set up his earthly kingdom, and your world is still dominated by Caesar and Rome. The Jewish temple is destroyed. You are starting to wonder whether maybe all this is real, and whether Jesus was who we thought he was. And into that, John writes his account of the Gospel, with this phrase toward the very end.
John 20:30–31 (CSB)
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John hand picked this very specific collection of conversations, encounters, miracles, and scenes from Jesus’ life, of which he was a first-hand eye-witness, in order to encourage us that Jesus is who he claimed to be: The son of God, the savior of the whole world.
“But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:12-13 CSB
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (CSB)
There are two important aspects to these verses: “belief”, and “all”. We spend a lot of time focusing on the belief part, and it is crucial, but we need to make sure and not miss the thrust of of John’s words here. The Gospel is for anyone.
This would have been shocking to the first century Jewish nation. It is less shocking for us in modern times, because this inclusion has been going on for 2000 years now, and we, as gentiles who live on the other side of the planet, take this inclusion for granted, and because we take it for granted, we get short sighted on some very important ways. We’re going to talk a bit about that today.
Today’s premise: In the 3rd and 4th chapter’s of his gospel, John highlights Jesus’s interaction with three very different individuals: a Sadducee, a Samaritan adulteress, and a royal official. Jesus reveals himself to all of them as the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and the savior of the whole world (i.e., not just Israel.) He shows no partiality due to their religious or political affiliations, their social status, nor their ethnicity. All are invited to follow him. We are meant to learn from his example and do likewise: love, serve, and invite everyone to faith in Jesus, without partiality.
It’s kind of like the movie Ratatouille.
[Ratatouille analogy – “Anyone can cook.” The rat doesn’t belong in a restaurant! Not “everyone can cook”, but that a great chef can come from anywhere.]
Disciples on Mission
4:1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),
Here we get a little glimpse of what those who follow Jesus are up to. Making disciples: introducing people to Jesus, baptizing those that believe, and teaching them all that Jesus commanded. We’ll get to that a little more later on.
3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
We know a little bit about Samaria from history, including the scriptures in 2 Kings and a bit in Ezra, but the long and the short of it is that Jews hated Samaritans and the feeling was mutual. The Samaritans felt that the temple was a false place of worship and desecrated the temple in AD 6, fairly close to the time of our passage today, so not only were Samaritans seen as outsiders by Jews, but actually seen as hostile.
Another way of saying it is that there was a lot of racial prejudice that led the Israelites to see the Samaritans as dirty, morally inferior, scary, and to be avoided. It is not hard for us to call up feelings that our culture has toward people with certain ethnic, class, and cultural backgrounds. Is it?
Add to this the cultural sensitivity of a man interacting with a woman he is not married to in public, and it is shocking that Jesus would as this woman for a drink.
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
One thing that struck me about this conversation was the similarity with Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, which we talked about last week. Jesus. engages the woman in a spiritual conversation, using a metaphor. In this case: living water, with Nicodemus: being born. Both the sadducee and the woman fail to see that Jesus is trying to point them to something higher than their present, felt needs in this life.
We can often be like them, can’t we? When we do go to Jesus, we tend to only have this life in mind, only have our present, physical needs, or maybe if we think ourselves to be extra-humble or selfless, we’re thinking of the present physical needs of someone else. Jesus would point us to a reality that goes far beyond what we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.
Jesus says: I have water to offer that will satisfy your needs completely, and give you eternal life, and she can only imagine her daily chores getting easier. And replies somewhere in the neighborhood of, “Yeah right, that’d be nice, give me some of that. It would make my job a whole lot easier…”
ILLUSTRATION FOR THE KIDS (and adults :)) -What is living water? Kids: draw a river. Do any of you have a garden? What happens to plants when they don’t have water? Draw some trees, put some fruit on them. Make some animals by the river drinking it. “Living water” brings life. The life Jesus is talking about is joy, peace, contentment, love, purpose, identity, the things that our hearts need! It is all found in him. In following him, learning about him, obeying him, doing the things he did, in the way he did them. And he says as we do this, living water will spill out of us into others as well!
Jesus takes her request, sarcastic and doubting though it may be, and sets about showing her how to get this living water. First he has to wake her up. Like Nicodemus, she needs to be born again. She is spiritually dead and incapable of comprehending truth unless he first acts. She must be born “not of the will of man, or of the will of flesh, but of the will of God” before she can be given the right to be called a child of God, before she can see the kingdom.
So he shows her something startling. This strange Jewish man, asking for a drink and rambling about eternal life knows who she is entirely.
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
I can imagine that this woman, who does have some amount of understanding at this point that this man does see her clearly, is a little frightened. Like Eve trying to hide her nakedness behind a fig leaf, this woman tries to put up a smoke screen of a theological argument. The primary point of disagreement between Jews and Samaritans, that has lasted for centuries, that no one has been able to settle. That will get him, she thinks. She expects him to say, “Well, Jerusalem of course…”, like all the other Jews, at which point she can assuage her conscience, and go on ignoring him.
Jesus doesn’t let her.
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
Jesus gives an answer to her theological smokescreen that she’s never heard before. There’s a new deal, one the prophets have been predicting since the beginning: God wants worshippers who worship in spirit (with their whole being, heart, mind, soul, and strength) and truth (with honesty, and according the revealed will of God from the scriptures, not according to human religious traditions…).
He tells her: it’s not about this mountain of that one, it’s about the Holy Spirit invading your heart and changing your life. This is similar to what Jesus told Nicodemus when he spoke of being born again. You have to start life and perspective over from scratch.
So, not knowing how to reply, she retreats to her stronghold. “Well, the Messiah will sort it out.” (This is something the Jews and Samaritans had in common.) And Jesus says, “friend, you’re talking to him…”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?”
It’s fun to see the disciples missing the point, just like Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman. This is probably a foreshadowing of chapter 6, where Jesus reveals that not only is he the source of living water, but is also the bread of life.
34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Jesus tells his followers, including us, that there is a mission at hand! That this mission of introducing people to Jesus is as natural and necessary for a follower of Jesus as the need to eat!
The Savior of the Whole World
39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
The story is making one of John’s major points explicit: Jesus is for everyone, the religious elite Nicodemus, hated and outcast Samaritans, even an adulteress, and next we see, even a government official. All are invited to leave the old life behind, take the living water, be born again, and follow Jesus! The Faith-Filled Official
43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast. 46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.
We don’t know much about this official. It’s possible that he was the same centurion that was mentioned in the other gospel accounts. If it is, then these three stories have an additional layer of awesome-ness: Acts 1:8 promises that the Gospel will spread through Jerusalem and Judea (represented by Nicodemus), Samaria (as we have here), and the ends of the earth, represented by this official. But that’s a little speculation, worth a mention though.
What is not speculation is this man’s response to Jesus. Belief. A faith that leads him to ask for help from Jesus.
47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
A brief warning to not treat God as a vending machine. Similar to Jesus’s words to Thomas after the resurrection. But the man simply reiterates his simple, faith-filled request, and Jesus answers.
49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
Everyone in the world, of all backgrounds, all political stripes, every ethnicity has been created with a need for Jesus, a need for living water.
In our sin and rebellion against God, we have cut ourselves off from that source, thinking we know better how to fill that whole, how to satisfy that thirst, and we look to a thousand other things to meet it, or at least help us ignore it. Money, food, power, TV, sex, shopping, politics, religion. What we need is Jesus.
Jesus offers us this living water, himself, the only thing that will satisfy this emptiness, this homesickness, this soul hunger, this thirst inside us.
When we turn to him in prayer, follow his teachings as outlined in the Bible, and be together in the fellowship of his church, we find this water. It fills us up, and it spills out of us, giving life to others around us as well.
So that’s where I want to leave us today. Stop trying to fill your soul with water that does not satisfy. Go to Jesus.